This review previously ran on January 27, 2017, during the Sundance Film Festival
Having its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is director Drake Doremus’ newest film, Newness, a romantic drama set in today’s digital age.
Shot in just eighteen days in November of last year, Doremus and team found that they were able to whip the project together and cut it into an unapologetic and raw feature-length film.
Fans of Doremus and his films will know that he prefers to make a certain kind of movie– meditations on modern romance about two lovers who, although in love, are kept apart by some force larger than themselves. The larger force in Newness is the digital age itself, in which social media and hookup apps allow for the possibility of an infinite amount of connections but also leaves this generation feeling emotionally bankrupt, unsatisfied, and incomplete (as if the imagined opportunity of infinite is more desirable than any current situation).
When Martin (Nicholas Hoult) and Gabi (Laia Costa) use technology to swipe and match with each other, the two meet up (after both having been on a date earlier in the night) and hook up even quicker. It doesn’t take long after that special night for the two to form a connection that sees them enter into something of a relationship. As their relationship ramps up past the physical desires of each other, the pair soon finds that as they get more serious, the more honest and sacrificial they must become. The messiness of previous relationship histories and the temptations of others are something they can’t ignore, forcing each other to look at their lives and evaluate what they are willing to give up to be together.
Newness is almost like a barometer reading of today’s young love landscape, a near perfect capturing of the real-life moments that drive our obsession for seeking out the new and the hesitant satisfaction of being happy with what one has. Working off of a script from longtime collaborator Ben York Jones (Like Crazy, Breathe In), Newness runs the full emotional spectrum of young dating life that will surely connect with today’s millennials as well as show the pitfalls of this dating culture to all others.
‘Newness’ is almost like a barometer reading of today’s young love landscape, a near perfect capturing of the real life moments that drive our obsession for seeking out the new and the hesitant satisfaction of being happy with what one has.
As is Doremus’ filmmaking style, which is exploring and discovering the story in the moment of shooting, Doremus allows Hoult and a whirlwind Costa (who starred in 2015’s amazing single-take film Victoria) to navigate the emotional moments between each other throughout the story. While this is an energizing practice, in some moments, it ends up dovetailing and cornering scenes into emotional walls with no resolution.
After having grown in story scope since his first feature film, Douchebag, and through his bigger films like the dystopian Romeo and Juliet movie, Equals, “Newness” returns to an intimacy felt in Like Crazy. What hurts Newness is that, following Martin and Gabi’s hookup, comes a good amount of steamy scenes between them (we already knew they had the hots for each other), but there doesn’t seem to be any moments that show a real connection between them that would solidify a base foundation for the infidelities and emotional insecurities that threaten their relationship. This, in turn, makes the film feel a bit trepidatious in making its ultimate point. All this can be rationalized as “real life,” but the longer the film plays and the further each emotionally drift from each other, it feels like we want to see these characters fight to be with each other rather than let personally manufactured insecurities let the story peter out.
Yet for these few dips, Newness sees Doremus further developing his directorial storytelling abilities while also showing what he can do better than most of his peers – tell a romantic story that feels so electric, alive, and which captures modern love in all of its beautiful and messy form. Newness is dedicated to the late Anton Yelchin, star of Doremus’ Like Crazy, simply put: “To Anton, Into the Jungle.”
‘Newness’ is not rated. 112 minutes. Coming soon to Netflix and available for pre-order on iTunes now.